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Death Comes for the Deconstructionist
Wipf and Stock, 2014
180 pp., 22.0
David Lyle Jeffrey
Murder at the MLA
The plot of Death Comes for the Deconstructionist centers on the alleged murder of a prominent academic, just after he has given an award acceptance speech at a meeting of the Modern Language Association. Coincidentally, I have finished reading Daniel Taylor's splendidly crafted novel for the second time just as the MLA is having its annual meeting a few miles away in Austin. I am happy to report that the novel is not only more interesting than almost anything likely to transpire at that distinguished gathering but mercifully more accessible than its title and setting might suggest. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess to being a member of the literary tribe by training; I have given just such academic speeches, happily without being murdered for it. But I am glad for many less dramatic reasons to have been home today in my armchair, away from the jostle of politics and posturing proceeding apace just over an hour's drive away. (Cum grano salum, I think re-reading a good novel is almost always a better investment of time than listening to a few more academic papers and speeches.) Yet for me the worst part of the MLA isn't the tendentiously titled papers, mind-numbing as they may be. It comes in between the sessions, seeing the faces of hundreds of anxious graduate students there for job interviews—jockeying for attention, yet with confusion and disillusionment all too visible in their eyes—and realizing that you can't help. Worse still, these harried souls are only a fraction of those who came to graduate schools to pursue their love of literature, "burning with bright hope," in Byron's phrase. Many of their peers have already dropped out, before or during the dissertation, depressed.
In Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, we meet just such a former graduate student, Taylor's protagonist Jon Mote. His dissertation chapters having been repeatedly rejected by his supervisor for being too old-fashioned (i.e., ...